The Words of the Wells Family

Darwinism: Why I Went for a Second Ph.D.

by Jonathan Wells, Ph.D.-Berkeley, CA

At the end of the Washington Monument rally in September, 1976, I was admitted to the second entering class at Unification Theological Seminary. During the next two years, I took a long prayer walk every evening. I asked God what He wanted me to do with my life, and the answer came not only through my prayers, but also through Father's many talks to us, and through my studies. Father encouraged us to set our sights high and accomplish great things.

He also spoke out against the evils in the world; among them, he frequently criticized Darwin's theory that living things originated without God's purposeful, creative activity. My studies included modern theologians who took Darwinism for granted and thus saw no room for God's involvement in nature or history; in the process, they re- interpreted the fall, the incarnation, and even God as products of human imagination.

Father's words, my studies, and my prayers convinced me that I should devote my life to destroying Darwinism, just as many of my fellow Unificationists had already devoted their lives to destroying Marxism. When Father chose me (along with about a dozen other seminary graduates) to enter a Ph.D. program in 1978, I welcomed the opportunity to prepare myself for battle.


As a graduate student at Yale, I studied the whole of Christian theology but focused my attention on the Darwinian controversies. I wanted to get to the root of the conflict between Darwinian evolution and Christian doctrine. In the course of my research I learned (to my surprise) that biblical chronology played almost no role in the 19th- century controversies, since most theologians had already accepted geological evidence for the age of the earth and re-interpreted the days in Genesis as long periods of time. Instead, the central issue was design. God created the cosmos with a plan in mind. This affirmation is among the most basic in all of Christianity (and other theistic religions as well, including Unificationism). And that plan included human beings as the final outcome of the creative process: we are created in the image of God.

According to Darwin's theory, however, the whole history of life is the outcome of random variations and survival of the fittest. Although some features of living organisms (such as eyes) appear to be designed, Darwin claimed that this is only an illusion. Living things are the result of an essentially directionless process, and we are merely the accidental by-product of blind natural forces which did not have us in mind. When I finished my Yale Ph.D., I felt confident that I understood the theological basis of the conflict between Darwinism and theism.

But Darwinism was clearly winning the ideological battle in the universities, the public schools, and the mass media, largely because it claimed to be supported by scientific evidence. I knew enough about biology to know that this claim was quite shaky, but few scientists were willing to challenge it. Those who did were often lumped together with young-earth biblical fundamentalists and thereby discredited in the eyes of most scholars.

I eventually decided to join the fray by returning to graduate school in biology. I was convinced that embryology is the Achilles' heel of Darwinism; one cannot understand how organisms evolve unless one understands how they develop. In 1989, I entered a second Ph.D. program, this time in biology, at the University of California at Berkeley. While there, I studied embryology and evolution.

According to the standard view, the development of an embryo is programmed by its genes-its DNA. Change the genes, and you can change the embryo, even to the point of making a new species. In the movie "Jurassic Park," genetic engineers extract fragments of dinosaur DNA from fossilized mosquitoes, splice them together with DNA from living frogs, then inject the combination into ostrich eggs which had had their own DNA inactivated. In the movie, the injected DNA then re- programmed the ostrich to produce a dinosaur. Experiments similar to this have actually been performed, though not with dinosaur DNA.

In every case, if any development occurred at all it followed the pattern of the egg, not the injected foreign DNA. While I was at Berkeley I performed experiments on frog embryos. My experiments focused on a reorganization of the egg cytoplasm after fertilization which causes the embryo to elongate into a tadpole; if I blocked the reorganization, the result was a ball of belly cells; if I induced a second reorganization after the first, I could produce a two-headed tadpole. Yet this reorganization had nothing to do with the egg's DNA, and proceeded quite well even in its absence (though the embryo eventually needed its DNA to supply it with additional proteins).

So DNA does not program the development of the embryo. As an analogy, consider a house: the builder needs materials (such as pieces of lumber cut to the right lengths, cement, nails, piping, wiring, etc.), but he also needs a floor plan (since any given pile of materials could be assembled into several different houses) and he needs a set of assembly instructions (since assembling the roof before the foundation and walls would pose a serious problem). In a developing organism, the DNA contains templates for producing proteins-the building materials.

To a very limited extent, it also contains information about the order in which those proteins should be produced-assembly instructions. But it does not contain the basic floor plan. The floor plan and many of the assembly instructions reside elsewhere (nobody yet knows where). Since development of the embryo is not programmed by the DNA, the Darwinian view of evolution as the differential survival of DNA mutations misses the point. At most, Darwin's theory may explain "microevolution" within established lineages-such as minor differences among closely related species of salamanders. But it cannot account for "macroevolution," - the large-scale differences between shellfish and insects, or between birds and mammals. Darwin's theory is incompatible not only with the evidence from embryology, but also with the evidence from the fossil record. According to Darwinism, all creatures are descended from a common ancestor. Yet the oldest fossils show that almost all of the major groups of organisms appeared at around the same time, fully formed and recognizably similar to their modern counterparts. Darwin's theory predicts a "branching tree" pattern in the fossil record, yet that pattern is nowhere to be found. The fossils provide no evidence that all creatures are descended from a common ancestor. So the two major claims of Darwinism-that all living things are descended from a common ancestor and that their differences are due to random variations and survival of the fittest- are unsupported by evidence.

The challenge

1992 AAR In 1992, while a biology graduate student at Berkeley, I responded to some papers at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion (AAR) in San Francisco. The AAR includes several thousand professors of religion from colleges all over North America. At the 1992 meeting, the committee on theology and science discussed the fall, original sin, and guilt. I was too busy to write a paper, but offered to be a respondent to the others, and the committee chairman accepted my offer.

The papers, including one by James Fowler of Emory University, took it for granted that the fall of Adam and Eve was a fiction rather than a historical fact. They made this assumption because Darwinism had presumably proven that the human species originated as a slowly evolving population rather than as two created individuals who disobeyed God. Since, in their minds, the fall never occurred, the universal sense of guilt usually attributed to the fall must have originated in some other way. Fowler argued that each of us goes through a period of anxiety as we are weaned from our mother's breast, and that that anxiety gives rise to the myth that something occurred early in our history which separated us from "god" and led to feelings of guilt. According to Fowler, however, the same event propels us on the road to individual awareness and rational thought. According to this interpretation, the "fall" is actually a good thing: without it, we would never be truly human.

I responded that the paper-writers, by basing their theological reflections on implications of Darwin's theory, were relying on bad science. I explained that Darwinism doesn't fit the evidence, and concluded that the paper-writers had sold out to a passing fad. Then I criticized their theology, arguing that if evil did not enter the world through a historical act of human free will, God must have made the world evil. In his rebuttal, Fowler remarked that what each of us experiences in our own upbringing is actually "a fall upwards into consciousness."

I got the last word, and confessed to being old-fashioned enough to think that when we fall, we fall downwards. The discussion had been friendly and good humored, but after it was over I found that no one in the audience (except for a handful of my own friends) wanted to talk to me. Many (including the committee chairman) even turned and walked away when I approached them. Since the audience included almost everyone in North America who teaches about science and religion in our universities and theological seminaries, the shunning which I experienced indicated that virtually the entire academic establishment has sold out to Darwinism. Anyone who criticizes it and defends classical theology is considered to be acting in bad taste. It saddened me to realize that educators who should be interested in these issues don't even want to discuss them.

Current Activities

Since completing my second Ph.D. a few months ago, I have taught embryology at a state college and am now a post-doctoral research biologist at Berkeley, writing articles critical of Darwinism. I am one of a growing number of highly-educated and articulate critics of Darwinism, located in universities all over North America, who stay in touch via the internet and occasionally join forces at academic conferences.

These critics include embryologists, paleontologists, biochemists, molecular biologists, medical doctors, philosophers, and even lawyers. Unfortunately, the North American science-and-religion establishment has largely turned a deaf ear to these critics, preferring instead to abandon classical theology and embrace metaphysical materialism and moral relativism. But I see the situation as analogous to the last years of Soviet communism. A small, powerful elite controls all the official information outlets while the evidence against the official position swells quietly, like a wave building offshore. Someday soon, to the surprise of many people in academia and the media, the wave will break. I predict that the Darwinist establishment will come apart at the seams, just as the Soviet Empire did in 1990.


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